In today's NFL, putting pressure on the quarterback is imperative every week.
But when your opponent is a pocket passer of San Diego Chargers' signal-caller Philip Rivers' caliber, it would behoove a team to ratchet up the heat.
Rivers, whom the Ravens will face this weekend at Qualcomm Stadium, makes a living by standing tall in the face of a pass rush and coolly picking out his targets to march the Chargers down the field.
He did just that last Monday night when he led a game-winning drive that spanned 89 yards in the final 2 minutes, 30 seconds of the Chargers' victory over the Oakland Raiders. Running back Darren Sproles capped it by bulling 1 yard over the goal line, but Rivers did much of the heavy lifting, going 6-of-7 for 79 yards on the series.
"If you look at his quarterback rating from last year and things like that, man, the guy has a big arm," said linebacker Ray Lewis of Rivers' impressive 105.5 rating from 2008, which led the NFL. "He throws the ball very well and has a lot of targets to really throw the ball to. I think that's a great credit to him.
"But the bottom line is he spreads the ball around very well, and he loves to sit in that pocket. So hopefully, we don't let him sit there too long."
The Ravens are known for making quarterbacks uncomfortable. Last year, they totaled 23 sacks to tie with the New York Jets for 11th most in the league. This year, they are already off to a good start by sacking Kansas City's Brodie Croyle three times in Week 1, with one of those sacks resulting in a fumble. Linebacker Jarret Johnson accounted for two sacks and the strip. He has seen Rivers before and knows how important it is to rattle him.
The last time Baltimore met the NC State product was in 2007, when Rivers shredded the defense for three passing touchdowns in a 32-14 win.
The Ravens' sack number for that game? Zero.
"He's one of those guys that slides around and buys time," Johnson said. "You wouldn't call Peyton Manning a mobile guy, but he slides around and avoids the rush to make throws. Philip Rivers is a lot like that. He's really dangerous when he's rolling to our left. He's definitely someone you have to keep contain."
At 6-foot-5, 228 pounds, Rivers has a big frame that can shake off would-be tacklers.
Johnson said the strategy for dealing with a quarterback like that is simple, but the defense must execute.
"You have to come as a group, not only outside but push up the middle and get that pocket to collapse around him," Johnson said.
The Chargers' offensive line, however, has looked somewhat porous lately. The starting unit gave up six sacks of Rivers in 36 dropbacks this preseason.
And to complicate matters, first-team center Nick Hardwick (ankle), right guard Louis Vasquez (knee) and left tackle Marcus McNeil (ankle) have all missed practices this week. The chances for Hardwick, a 2006 Pro Bowler, to play on Sunday seem slim. According to reports out of San Diego, backup Scott Mruczkowski told reporters that he will start.
That makes the job of the Ravens' defensive line all the more important. Under new defensive coordinator Greg Mattison, the Ravens have been relying on their front wall to generate pressure more, rather than blitzing multiple linebackers or defensive backs.
"He's a great quarterback," said Mattison. "You're getting at a different level now. He's one of those guys – if you let him stand back there, those corners, no matter how well they're playing, they aren't going to be successful.
"We have to get our pressure with our four-man front. We missed two sacks with a four-man rush in the last game. Any chance you have to hit him and to be around him, we've got to do that."
Read about the challenge of stopping San Diego's run game